Tag Archive | gulls

The start of spring in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our spring birding sessions started off on a bit of a cooler note than the end of our winter course had been, but even though it was a bit duller and colder, the birds did not disappoint. We repeated our previous outing to the Weaselhead almost exactly, with a visit to North Glenmore Park to scope the reservoir and check on the Great Horned Owls we’d found there in late March.

Weaselhead - 4-3-2016

Weaselhead – April 3, 2016

The feeders seemed a little emptier that week, with most of the Common Redpolls, Pine Grosbeaks, and Pine Siskins having departed, but we did find one lone siskin feeding not at the feeders, but on the budding catkins on the trees bracketing the pathway.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

All the way down the hill and onto the bridge we were hard pressed to see anything nearby, with little rhyme or reason. The usual deluge of dog walkers, runners, and cyclists down into the Weaselhead was much diminished due to the weather, and yet the birds were still strangely absent. We crossed over the bridge and off to the deeper parts of the park when we quite nearly stumbled across this little Snowshoe Hare in the shrubs beside the path.

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare

 ::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 230mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

We watched it for a little while while it foraged, seeming not too shy of our presence, but attempting to at least stay a little bit hidden from our direct view. We soon headed off to our usual spot to listen for Boreal Chickadees when we were stopped dead in our tracks by the distant sound of a Ruffed Grouse drumming.

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 230mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

I’d been searching for this particular bird for quite a while, as I had found a few drumming logs that he had been displaying on recently on my last solo trip down here. Drumming logs can generally be identified by numerous piles of grouse scat on them, often around an area on the log where the bark has been stripped away. We caught sight of him about a forty meters away, and paused to let him get comfortable with our presence. Sure enough, when he was calm enough, he began his display once again.

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Ruffed Grouse displaying

Ruffed Grouse displaying

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Ruffed Grouse drumming

Ruffed Grouse drumming

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Once we were satisfied that we’d all had a good view of his displays, we moved on and let him get back to wooing his grousettes (I’m sure that’s the technical term for it… or maybe it’s hens? I’ll stick with grousettes.) Again, the trees were quiet, and the activity was at a bit of a lull, but as birding often goes, sometimes its those quiet days that give the best experiences!

We did manage to catch a flock of Trumpeter Swans flying west off the Glenmore Reservoir just as we entered a clearing. Lucky for us!

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Back to the bridge we went again, and sure enough, our little Snowshoe Hare friend was feeding on the edge of the creek, this time a little bit bolder!

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Since we had a few things to check out up at the top of the hill, we decided to bee-line it back to the parking lot to check out the ponds at North Glenmore Park. Along the way though, we did find a couple little highlights to the day.

This Red Squirrel was caught red-pawed at the exact same feeder we had seen a Least Chipmunk feeding from just a few weeks prior. It seems this bird feeder is the preferred site for rodent sightings!

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 250mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Near the top of the hill, we also came across this American Robin singing away from near the top of a budding aspen.

American Robin

American Robin

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Back at North Glenmore Park, we found the proud papa Great Horned Owl resting peacefully with his mate nearby. No babies were visible yet, but soon enough those eggs would hatch and become some of the most adorable little fluff balls you’d ever see!

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

And finally we took a few minutes to scan the Glenmore Reservoir, and boy was I glad we did! Far out on the reservoir one of the common perches for gulls and swallows were four species of gulls, and one of those was our first of the year. Lined up nicely were a California Gull (far left), a couple of Ring-billed Gulls, a Franklin’s Gull, and on the far right was a Herring Gull. It’s too bad these guys were so far off, because they sure were a nice sight to see after our slow day!

Gulls on a log

Gulls on a log

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Have a great week, and good birding!

Fantastic Fall Colours at Elliston Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

With the beautiful weather we’ve had the past couple of weeks, it was incredible to get yet another warm and amazing Sunday morning outing last weekend. While the clouds were thin and the light muted, there were still enough moments where the sun peeked through and really showed off some beautiful colors on both the birds, and on the trees surrounding Calgary’s second largest water body.

Elliston Park - October 19, 2014

Elliston Park – October 19, 2014

With two groups meeting at the same time, my group headed clockwise around the lake, while the other group led by Tony Timmons, headed counter-clockwise. Each group reaped some benefits from that, as some of the birds moved away from us and toward them, and vice versa. There were hundreds of ducks on the lake itself, and hundreds more flying over and flying south for the season. There were a good number of Lesser Scaup, both male and female plumaged birds, which are always nice to see on migration.

male Lesser Scaup Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Lesser Scaup – non-breeding plumage
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Circling the edges of the lake were dozens of Bonaparte’s Gulls. These black-headed gulls (during breeding season) are found further north, breeding in the upper branches of large spruce and pine trees, unlike Alberta’s other black-headed gull species, the Franklin’s Gull, which are colonial nesters throughout the prairies. In their non-breeding plumage, Bonaparte’s Gulls are striking in their pale whites and grays, with their signature black “ear” spots.

Bonaparte's Gull - non-breeding plumage Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bonaparte’s Gull – non-breeding plumage
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bonaparte's Gull - non-breeding plumage Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Bonaparte’s Gull – non-breeding plumage
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

While there were over thirty Hooded Mergansers on the lake, there were also quite a few female Common Mergansers in amongst them. This particular girl was a little bit shy from one of the many off-leash dogs running the shores of the lake that day.

female Common Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

female Common Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

We did benefit from the other group pushing this non-breeding plumaged grebe towards us, just when the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. While I believe this is a Horned Grebe, I’m really quite terrible at distinguishing between Horned and Eared Grebes in their non-breeding plumages.

Horned Grebe Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Horned Grebe
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Over on the west end of the park, the parking lot was undergoing some significant construction, and we spotted a few Blue Jays flying over, and a couple of Black-billed Magpies and Rock Pigeons here and there. It was quite fun to watch a few Northern Flickers picking their way across the ground in search of ants or other insects just under the grass.

Northern Flicker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Northern Flicker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Along the north edge of the lake the light became a little more tricky to shoot against, as the sun peeked out for longer periods, but the low angle made getting good looks at anything on the water a bit of a challenge. The angle of the light and the purely serendipitous placement of this pair of grebes made for a perfect teaching moment (or at least I’m pretty sure!) showing off the differences between Eared and Horned Grebes in their non-breeding plumage.

Horned (rear) and Eared (fore) Grebes Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Horned (rear) and Eared (fore) Grebes
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Well we neared the end of our three hour tour, once again the combination of accommodating birds and good angles of light made it impossible for me to bypass this pair of incredibly common Mallards and attempt a couple of portrait photos. I was quite pleased with the results.

male Mallard Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

female Mallard Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

female Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

And so our walk came to an end, but not before a pair of Blue Jays decided to come in and loudly announce their presence. I’ve never had much luck with these guys, but I’m pleased that I was able to catch one a little off guard and in the open while foraging under a spruce tree just meters away from my vehicle.

Blue Jay Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Blue Jay
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Thanks as always for reading, and good birding!

Lafarge Meadows – Spring has arrived!…?

Posted by Dan Arndt

March 20th, 2014 was the first day of spring. The Google Earth image that I’m using for this week’s map was from March 28, 2004, and seems to show much more open water on the Bow River, a bit of open water on both ponds at the park on the east side of the Bow River. It just goes to show how much colder, snowier, and icier this year has been (and continues to be!) than last.

Lafarge Meadows  March 23, 2014

Lafarge Meadows
March 23, 2014

Of course no visit to Lafarge Meadows and Sikome Lake is ever complete without a visit to the resident Great Horned Owls. With Dad on watch and Mom on the nest, it looks like they’re off to another good start this year. In fact, it won’t be too long now until the young start to poke their heads up and explore their new environment!

male Great Horned Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

male Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

female Great Horned Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

female Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

After a few weeks of them being more or less absent on the river, the Canada Goose numbers were back up as migrants began their trip north to their breeding grounds once again. This particular stretch of river is rather good for finding birds staging before their trek further north, or to disperse around the countryside near Calgary.

Canada Goose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Canada Goose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Canada Geese in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Canada Geese in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

We were even lucky enough to see a (seemingly) early Mountain Bluebird along the river. While we only saw it at a distance, it was more than enough to be certain of the ID. Chances are good that this bird is finding enough to eat along the edge of the river with the various insects that are still present in the water, as well as egg sacs, larvae, and various other food sources near the banks of the river.

Canada Goose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Canada Goose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

We ventured quite far south at Lafarge Meadows in hopes of finding some other birds a little bit closer to the water’s edge, but didn’t get anything much more interesting than the Mountain Bluebird until we headed back the other way. It all seemed to come fast and busy, with this adult Bald Eagle landing very close by to start, followed quickly by the sighting of some American Wigeon across the river, and then finding our first Killdeer of the season in amongst them!

Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

American Wigeon and Killdeer Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

American Wigeon and Killdeer
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Our last “new” birds of the day was a fly-by of a fairly sizeable flock of California Gulls, two of which flew by quite low, allowing for a much better view (and photos) than we had the previous week at Pearce Estate Park!

California Gulls Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

California Gulls
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

While I didn’t get too many good shots last week, I guarantee you’ll enjoy the ones I was able to capture this week. See you next Monday, and until then, good birding!

Another Snowy Sunday in Fish Creek Provincial Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

I wish today’s headline was in reference to us finding a Snowy Owl, rather than the dreary weather we seem to be afflicted with on our Sunday walks this year, but sadly, that is not to be. We awoke once again to fresh, fluffy snow, moderate winds, and a dreadfully overcast sky.There are very few advantages to this type of lighting, and at the very least, the direct light along with the reflected light from the snow leads to much more even light hitting the subjects… but I digress, this is a birding blog!

Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters - just a taste of Sunday's weather Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm 1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 800

Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters – just a taste of Sunday’s weather
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm
1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 800

The route we took today is one I don’t believe I’ve ever taken with this group. Starting at the Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters, we headed west to the Bow River into the Burnsmeade area, and walked all the way over to the now defunct footbridge that connects to the neighborhood of McKenzie Lake.

Sunday's route from the HQ to Burnsmeade

Sunday’s route from the HQ to Burnsmeade

We searched around the headquarters building in each and every spruce tree nearby for the resident Great Horned Owls, but sadly came up empty. With the wind still whipping and snow still falling, it was a challenge just to find the few Downy Woodpeckers and Black-capped Chickadees that we did, but in the end we gave up the effort and headed over to the Bow River.

View from the Ranche Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm 1/80sec., ƒ/13, ISO 125

View from the Ranche
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm
1/80sec., ƒ/13, ISO 125

male Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

On the walk over to the river it was clear that winter has really hit home. The flocks of waterfowl were constantly overhead, and throughout the day, with final numbers at nearly ten thousand ducks and geese in the course of the day. One of the reasons they seemed a little flighty was because of this beauty.

adult Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

adult Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

A couple surprises were found among the nearby ducks on the river in the form of a pair of male Barrow’s Goldeneye, and a small group of Lesser Scaup, always nice to see this early in the winter.

Barrow's Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Barrow’s Goldeneye and Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Lesser Scaup, Canada Goose and Mallards Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Lesser Scaup, Canada Goose and Mallards
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

A few of the birds seen earlier in the week had moved on as the snow came in hard, such as a Western Grebe and a pair of Wilson’s Snipe near the water treatment outfall, but in our search for them there, we spotted this Common Raven with an unusual object in its mouth. I’m still not quite sure what it is that’s being carried in its bill, perhaps some fish bones?

Common Raven Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Common Raven
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

On the river a little further down, some movement in a low bush along the bank caught our attention, which ended up being this lone American Tree Sparrow, who hammed it up for the camera while chomping down on grass seeds still abundant on this section of riverbank.

American Tree Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

American Tree Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

American Tree Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

American Tree Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Interrupting my intimate photo session with this little fellow was an always rare sight within city limits, this Prairie Falcon, who came bombing in not once, but twice high overhead, giving us excellent, albeit brief, views of its diagnostic characteristics in the form of the clean malar (or moustachial) stripe, dark wing/arm pits, and fine barring on the underwing, aside from the overall shape and flight pattern typical of all falcons.

Prairie Falcon Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

Prairie Falcon
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

 

male Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Prairie Falcon
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

We did have a number of very close fly-bys of many Canada Geese, but none that had quite the impression of this little flock. Doesn’t that bottom right goose look just that much smaller and shorter-necked than the rest of the birds in this flock? Canada Geese, as well as Cackling Geese, have a number of subspecies, and just in this flock it’s possible that there may be three subspecies, though that’s never been my forte. Give me a few years and maybe I’ll pick it up though, once I’ve mastered gulls and warblers!

Canada Geese Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

Canada Geese
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

Canada Goose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Canada Goose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Speaking of gulls, there was no shortage of Ring-billed Gulls on the river, and while they do tend to stick around well into late November, these may be the last ones we get to see on our walks this year, depending on the weather. While the Ring-billed Gulls were the most common, Herring Gulls gave a good showing as well, and I’m not used to seeing them fly, let alone fly this low to the ground and at just the right angle. I do believe this is my first decent flight shot of a Herring Gull. Odd, for such a common bird in these parts, but that’s why birding is a new adventure every time.

Herring Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Herring Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 125

This photo was taken at the far end of our walk, just before we turned to head back. Along this final stretch we discussed a little bit about the damage that the flood had done to the area, and just how high the water level had been during the height of it. At times, our tallest participant, at 6’4″, would have still been at least a foot under water, and there were trees and bushes exhibiting layer upon layer of trapped debris in their upper boughs.

 

Bridge over troubled waters Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm 1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 100

Bridge over troubled waters
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm
1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 100

Damage from the flood - note the strings of debris in the branches of nearly every tree in this frame Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm 1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 125

Damage from the flood – note the strings of debris in the branches of nearly every tree in this frame
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm
1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 125

As our morning neared its end, we did manage another two species to add to our list. First, this female Hairy Woodpecker flew in over our heads to peck away at this damaged tree.

Hairy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Hairy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Lastly, this very late season Bonaparte’s Gull was readily gleaning insects and other food particles from the surface of the water. Our first pass took us right by him with barely a glance, and it wasn’t until our second pass that most of us really were able to see it up close and person,

Bonaparte's Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bonaparte’s Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

And that’s all for this week! Thanks for reading, and good birding!

A fine fall day for birding at the Western Irrigation Canal

Posted by Dan Arndt

One of the highlights of the fall season is the exploration of the Western Irrigation Canal pathway, and this year’s visit was no exception. With warmer temperatures than we’d had the past week, clear skies, and a good variety of birds, it was a hit with the relatively small group we had.

Western Irrigation Canal

Western Irrigation Canal

To my eyes, the most persistent bird through the trip was the Greater Yellowlegs, though as we began the walk, the light didn’t particularly give us good opportunities to get them at their best, so it took a while before the shutter clicks and long, lingering looks at potentially the last shorebirds of the season really began in earnest. While earlier in the week there had been a good variety of waterfowl, our diversity was relatively minimal, with these Green-winged Teal showing off their namesake, and their vibrant colors.

teal

female Green-winged Teal
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Another of the surprisingly attractive birds was this young European Starling, showing off a little iridescence in the early morning light. While they’re also on their way out of the area, they’ve really come into their beautiful, bright, and striking colors. It’s been said that if these birds were rare, people would come from miles around just to get a look at them!

European Starling Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

European Starling
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

As we entered the wooded area near the south end of the canal pathway, we heard the chip notes of a few sparrows, juncos, and even a Yellow-rumped Warbler or three, and were greeted with one distinct sparrow, and one bird that remained a mystery for a good five minutes while we considered the possibilities. The first was a beautiful American Tree Sparrow, with its distinct red cap, bi-colored bill, and gray face skulked about in the shade, and flew off after only a minute or so.

 

tree sparrow

American Tree Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

The American Tree Sparrow was intermingling with a pair of these slightly smaller, and a little more plain birds, which we eventually came to the conclusion were immature Chipping Sparrows, which hadn’t quite fully entered breeding plumage.

Chipping

Chipping Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

It wasn’t too much further up the path that we initially saw this Black-billed Magpie, picking off some thorny buffalo-berries from this tree. It wasn’t until I got home and reviewed my photos that I noticed why it was foraging on the bushes. It appears that this magpie has suffered a fairly severe series of injuries. Its upper mandible has been torn away almost entirely, leaving only a centimeter or so, and there also appears to be some significant loss of feathers around the neck area, though this may be an artifact of the molt pattern typical of corvids. It sat there for a few minutes, nabbing berry after berry, tipping its head back to swallow them, and then continuing up the branch.

Black-billed Magpie with damaged bill Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Black-billed Magpie with damaged bill
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

This photo shows the damaged bill a bit better Black-billed Magpie Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

This photo shows the damaged bill a bit better
Black-billed Magpie
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

As we reached the end of the pathway, we turned back to return the way we had come, and as the sun edged over the trees a little more, it really brought out the amazing colors on some of the most common of our winter birds. When you see the iridescence of the head, the bright yellow of the bill, and the contrasting deep orange of the feet of the male Mallard it really is quite the sight.

male Mallard Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

male Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

On our return, all the birds disturbed by our first pass had returned, and seemingly, brought along some of their friends as well. This Greater Yellowlegs flushed up soon after we turned back, I suspect moments after it had just become comfortable again after our initial intrusion.

Greater Yellowlegs Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Greater Yellowlegs
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

It’s also quite nice to see the Common Mergansers return in the fall. They’re quite a common bird here in the fall, winter, and spring, but they can be a challenge to find in the summer at the height of breeding season.

come

female Common Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

And finally, the ever-present Ring-billed Gulls both young and old were our constant companions on the walk. Soon though, they’ll be heading south for the winter, and strange as it may sound, their presence will be yearned for by February and March, along with hopes of warmer weather to come!

adult RBGU

adult Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

juv RBGU

immature Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Thanks again for reading, and good birding!

A return to normalcy at Lafarge Meadows

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

After last week’s almost complete washout for both bird life and weather conditions, it was nice to have relatively minimal wind, warm weather, and a clear transition to our normal autumn faunal assemblage that we’ve grown to expect here in Calgary.

This week we returned to part of my May Species Count territory, Lafarge Meadows. This was my second time back following the flood, and my first time back where there had been any bird life to speak of. I was also quite surprised that much of the cut bank of the river remained intact, rather than being completely eroded away. It seemed for the most part that the water level simply rose too fast to cut away much of the river bank before completely overwhelming it. Parts of our walk showed evidence of being under two meters of water or more, during the peak of the flooding.

That is not to say that the river bank was completely unscathed. A few areas of fresh outcrop were clearly visible, and a number of places where either old deadfall had been stripped away, pathways had been washed out, or the basins of both small and large ponds completely restructured were also quite numerous.

Lafarge Meadows (Note: This Google Earth image is from May 4, 2013, and doesn't reflect the change in the riverbed we saw on Sunday.)

Lafarge Meadows
(Note: This Google Earth image is from May 4, 2013, and doesn’t reflect the change in the riverbed we saw on Sunday.)

As we began our walk, it was clear that it was going to be a bit of a noisy day, as the European Starlings serenaded us any time we were near tree cover. The first two ponds gave us decent views of some waterfowl, including Gadwall, American Coots, Northern Shovelers and even a couple of Bufflehead, but the first really nice close looks we had at any new birds this season was this immature Bald Eagle that we first saw in the distance, then a little closer, until a few boaters flushed it off a high perch to give us this fly-by.

BAEA

immature Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Shortly after this fly-by, we scanned a distant gravel bar for some shorebirds, and managed to find a few Killdeer, a Greater Yellowlegs, and this Wilson’s Snipe… can you spot it?

Spot the Snipe! Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Spot the Snipe!
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

One of the birds that seems to almost completely disappear in summer that is starting to re-appear in larger numbers are the American Wigeon, which we saw no small number of on our trek. The female American Wigeon has a very distinct rusty color on the breast and flanks, but the underbelly, which is usually only seen in flight, is a pale white.

female American Wigeon Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

female American Wigeon
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

A little further down the pathway, but also giving us nice close looks, was this female Blue-winged Teal. Teals in general show a much smaller profile in the water, and are much smaller than Mallards, Northern Shovelers, and nearly every other duck you might see, and the females are very hard to tell apart from each other. The Blue-winged Teal though, has a white patch near the base of the bill, which is absent in the Green-winged and Cinnamon Teal.

female Blue-winged Teal Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

female Blue-winged Teal
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Another bird that didn’t seem to mind us coming in close to it was this Greater Yellowlegs. Note the slightly upturned bill, and that the bill length is about 1.5 times as long as the head is deep.

Greater Yellowlegs Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Greater Yellowlegs
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Shortly after Gus’ and a few of our other walkers had turned around, we were able to nab another species that they unfortunately had to miss. This little Merlin flew over the large pond, and then passed right in front of us, showing off its unique flight style in perfect form.

Merlin Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Merlin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Our trip back seemed much faster than the walk down, even though we saw almost as many birds on our trip back, it’s always important to not double-count the birds. The other vital thing was that this time around, the birds seemed further away and didn’t allow for any photo opportunities whatsoever. That all changed as we came upon a lone young White-crowned Sparrow that was more than willing to pose for the camera.

immature White-crowned Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

immature White-crowned Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

And if that weren’t enough, just before we decided to pack it in for the day, we had a very generous Herring Gull fly in nice and low, showing off its pink legs and yellow bill with the small red mark on the lower mandible. How nice of it!

 

Herring Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Herring Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Thanks again for reading, and good birding. Until next week!

Spring Blizzarding in Elliston Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

While last week was chilly, and a bit overcast, it wasn’t really too much to complain about. This week, the Sunday Curse has struck again. As the weekend approached, the forecast for 10-25 cm of snow by Monday night seemed a bit overzealous, maybe even pessimistic. Sadly, this was one time that the weatherman was right. Sunday morning greeted us with about 10cm of already accumulated snow, and a brisk wind out of the north made for risky driving and for terrible visibility at times, though we were lucky and also had some clear patches. A small, hardy group greeted us at 8 AM, and while some of the walk was abbreviated due to the conditions, we still had a good number of new species (or at least newly photographed species) for the year.

Earlier in the week I had finally received the Swarovski ATX 85 that has been graciously loaned to us, so I’ve included a good number of photos that were taken with the Swarovski TLS APO digiscoping adapter, taken with my Pentax K-30. I have to say, I’ve never been quite so happy that that camera is weather sealed as I was today. As I mentioned to the birding students, this is a scope that after an hour of playing with it at home had me wanting to buy it for myself, and after spending some time with it this afternoon and seeing the results I managed to get in the terrible light and low visibility, that decision has been set in stone. You’ll see what I mean below…

 

Elliston Park

Elliston Park

You might notice first of all that it doesn’t look like we saw much on the southern portion of our walk. That is mostly true. By the time we cleared the eastern edge of the tree cover, the clouds had lowered, the wind picked up, and the snowfall really started coming in sideways, pelting us with wet ice crystals, and some of us were simply not prepared for things to get as bad as they did, so we powered on straight to the parking lot to get out of the wind and sleet.

Despite all that doom and gloom, as I mentioned above, we got a whole pile of new bird sightings! Almost as soon as we started, we heard, then saw, a flock of American Tree Sparrows flitting about, barely pausing long enough for any of us to get good looks until they were quite far away.

American Tree Sparrows

American Tree Sparrows

From our vantage point we could see out onto the water quite well at this point, and with the trees covering us from the wind, we took a few minutes to look out over the lake, and managed to spot the first new species for the group, this American Wigeon. There were about half a dozen of these birds on Elliston Lake, standing out in stark contrast to the other waterfowl present. Additionally, this was where we had good views of the second new species of the day, the Lesser Scaup.

American Wigeon (rear) and Mallards (foreground)

American Wigeon (rear) and Mallards (foreground)

Lesser Scaup (digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

Lesser Scaup
(digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

While we have seen Townsend’s Solitaires this year, finding this one in the storm was a stroke of luck and good field identification on the part of some of our students! They are always such a pleasure to see! With the wind and snow picking up a bit at this time, we did check out a pair of Northern Flickers waiting out the storm on the leeward side of a low tree. Where they might have been nesting in or around this park is a mystery, as there really aren’t any trees large enough or old enough to provide them a suitable nest area!

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend’s Solitaire

Male (above) and female (below) hybrid Northern Flickers

Male (above) and female (below) hybrid Northern Flickers

We turned our attention back to the water, and found this lone American Coot. These aren’t a bird you expect to see all by its lonesome, nor in this kind of weather! An early arrival, and quite the surprise to see here! There were also a good number of Northern Shovelers in the north-east section of lake, though with the snow and wind picking up, good photos were hard to come by.

American Coot

American Coot

female (left) and male (right) Northern Shovelers

female (left) and male (right) Northern Shovelers

male Northern Shoveler (digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

male Northern Shoveler
(digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

From here on, we powered through to the end, with a few stops to check out some unusual sounds and sights, and a few nice finds in the sloughs east of Elliston Park, including many more Northern Shovelers, American Wigeons, and even a lone male Ruddy Duck, the blowing snow played havoc with my auto focus, and I didn’t make it back around after the walk with the digiscoping setup.

 

I did end up heading back to check out the gulls with the digiscope rig, and while I didn’t find anything particularly uncommon, the practice with both stationary birds and birds in flight was absolutely priceless. While I’ve already had some experience with digiscoping, the ease which I was able to pick up the different skills that this scope requires, as well as the particular idiosyncrasies of the setup were very quick to adapt to, and the learning curve was extremely shallow. I have to say, it’ll be a hard sell to go back to the other gear once June comes around!

Herring, California, and Ring-billed Gulls (digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

Herring, California, and Ring-billed Gulls
(digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

California Gull in flight (digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

California Gull in flight
(digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

Herring Gull in flight in the snowstorm (digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

Herring Gull in flight in the snowstorm
(digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

See you next week, and good birding!

Spring Birding at Sikome Lake, a variety of surprises!

Posted by Dan Arndt

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m going to be switching things up a bit for spring and fall, in regards to some of the content. I hope you like the new format, meant to highlight really the new arrivals (or long past due photos of said arrivals), rather than a laundry list of everything from Mallards and Chickadees to the uncommon or rare birds like Brown Thrasher and Sandhill Cranes. It shouldn’t look that different, but I do think it’s time I changed things up a bit. Given the feedback I’ve had in regards to the maps I’ve included for the past year, I’ll definitely be keeping those. It helps others who are going out in search of the birds days later, but also helps our attendees with a reminder of what we saw and where we saw it.

Sikome Lake is always a great place to visit any time of year. In winter, it’s a haven for the Black-capped Chickadee, both species of Nuthatch that are present here, and both the Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers. One of the birds that are a welcome sight are the Great Horned Owls, which I wrote about for Bird Canada over here. Today was no exception, providing us with quite a few new birds for the year, more than a few of which were surprises even to us!

Sikome Lake, Hull's Wood, and boat launch area

Sikome Lake, Hull’s Wood, and boat launch area

Our first new bird of the day was heard long before it was seen, and if there was a single bird one could say that was present all morning long, it would have been the Ring-necked Pheasant. Their calls echoed throughout the park from when we arrived at 8 AM, until I finally left at 1:15 PM. While they were heard all over the park, we only ended up spotting a single male sitting across the river from the boat launch when we arrived.

Ring-necked Pheasant

Ring-necked Pheasant

We surveyed a large flock of gulls one one of the gravel bars, picking out a Glaucous Gull amongst the various Ring-billed, California, and Herring Gulls, but the distance and the sleet simply would not allow for a photo.

Once we’d had our fill of gulls, we headed south to the large pond that borders Highway 22x, where we found this lone (and very early arriving) Cinnamon Teal, and were given nice comparison views of a Common and Barrow’s Goldeneye.

Cinnamon Teal

Cinnamon Teal and Canada Goose

Barrow's Goldeneye (rear) and Common Goldeneye (front)

Barrow’s Goldeneye (rear) and Common Goldeneye (front)

As we were leaving, I stopped for a moment as I heard a familiar, but quiet call of a Savannah Sparrow, though we couldn’t track down where the bird was calling from within the cattails on the bank of the pond.

We stopped for a few minutes to check out some Great Horned Owls on a nest, and both mom and dad were present and visible from our vantage point.

Female Great Horned Owl on nest

Female Great Horned Owl on nest

If you’ve ever birded Sikome Lake, you know that near the parking lot the Black-capped Chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers simply will not allow you to pass without paying the toll of black-oil sunflower seeds, or other assorted nuts as your park tax. Today was the exact opposite. Only a handful of birds were even present, and this lone White-breasted Nuthatch sat quietly while those of us with cameras took photo after photo.

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Emerging from the area surrounding the lake, we headed back for the bank of the Bow River to search for more. The male Common Mergansers were in full display, fighting for the right to mate with the few females on the river, who were outnumbered by at least five to one.

male Common Merganser

male Common Merganser

While the river in previous months had been packed with Canada Geese, Mallards, and Common Goldeneye, time time around it was a study in gull identification. Ring-billed, California, and Herring Gulls all circled and wheeled about, a few even taking a break on the near shore as we approached.

Ring-billed Gulls

Ring-billed Gulls

Herring Gull

Herring Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

One surprise for us was a pair of Killdeer, possibly ones that had overwintered on this stretch of river, or possibly recent arrivals, either way they were nice to see, as they had eluded our group all throughout the winter course.

Killdeer

Killdeer

As we had nearly completed our walk and spent a moment chatting with Gus, his keen eyes and quick identification skills spotted this lone bird, our first bird of the year for any of the groups for this species. Can you tell what it is?

Of course you won't get a hint this way.

Mystery Bird

And with that, our group had a few great new sightings for the year, despite the terrible weather, constant snow and sleet, and uncomfortably cold winds. Of course, me being a sucker for punishment, I decided I needed a better shot of the Cinnamon Teal, so I headed back to the ponds. I didn’t get a better shot of that bird, but I did find this pair of Greater Yellowlegs in the area we saw him before, which was a really nice bonus bird for the day!

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

And with that, I decided to call it a day and leave the park to the afternoon session, who were arriving just as I headed out.

 

Have a great week, and good birding!

Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 9 – Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

After last week’s debacle, I won’t be complaining about flat light, poor light, or a little cold weather every now and then. This week’s walk was in the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, and while the skies were overcast, the weather was above freezing and there were plenty of new migrants in abundance on the Bow River. The Northern Flickers were displaying and staking out new territory, Ring-billed and California Gulls were back on the river, and we even spotted a surprise American Wigeon amongst the thousands of waterfowl along the banks of the river! Spring is on the way!

Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

 

These next few weeks are both incredibly sad, but also incredibly exciting for birders in Canada. With the temperatures warming, it means not only more hours of sunlight to allow greater opportunities to see more birds, but it also means the arrival of all the species that have been gone since September, October, or as late as November for some. It also means, sadly, the departure of our winter guests. Snowy Owls, Common and Hoary Redpolls, American Tree Sparrows, Rough-legged Hawks, and usually, the White-winged Crossbills back to either more northerly latitudes, or to higher elevations, until fall returns. One of the best places around town to find new arrivals in the spring, summer, fall and winter, is at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. For various reasons, it has just the right combination of trees, bushes, and prey species that make it the perfect habitat for many of our summer residents.

 

On our walk this week, we were greeted at the beginning of our route by a lone Mule Deer. Some years, there are between six and twelve Mule Deer that call this place home, much to the disappointment of many ground nesting birds, as the deer are known to be completely oblivious of nests and in many cases walk right over them.

Muley

Mule Deer

Another species in abundance on our walk were the Common Ravens. At times there were four or five of them grouped together calling back and forth and generally causing a ruckus. These birds typically don’t nest in the sanctuary, so either they were drawn to something along the river, or just choosing this place to air their grievances with each other.

CORA

Common Raven

The original administration and maintenance building of the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is the Colonel Walker House. Originally built in 1910, and home to Colonel James Walker of the Northwest Mounted Police. You can read more about the house and Colonel Walker here.

Colonel Walker House

Colonel Walker House

Walker House 2

Colonel Walker House

Just outside the Walker House, we were treated to the sight of some recently emerging Richardson’s Ground Squirrels. The first to awaken in the spring are the males, looking to build up their fat stores in anticipation of the upcoming breeding season, to better fight for and defend a mate in the coming months.

Still looks a little sleepy.

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel

These weren’t the only animals looking to make the upcoming breeding season a productive one. We could hardly walk for a few minutes without hearing the calls of one of the many Northern Flickers announcing their territory with their distinct vocalizations, or raucous drumming.

NOFL

Northern Flicker

Even the Black-capped Chickadees were calling, defending their territory, and were a little bit less forward with us than they have been in the past few months, their attention also on other matters.

BCCH

Black-capped Chickadee

As we reached the southernmost point of our walk and turned back up the river, we were treated to the sight of over ten thousand waterfowl in the course of our walk, split between the Mallards and Canada Geese, with a few Common Goldeneye thrown in, and a pair of female American Wigeon for good measure.

MALL

Mallard

CAGO

Canada Geese

AMWI

American Wigeon (center) surrounded by Mallards

The real treat for those of us who’d been reading the reports all week was the return of the gulls. California Gulls had been reported all week. On Tuesday, only one was seen, but those numbers had swelled to over 30 individuals by today, and a trio of Ring-billed Gulls were also present.

CAGU

California Gull

CAGU2

California Gull

As we tore our eyes away from the river and began the final leg of our walk back to the start, a few of us straggled behind and were treated to the sight of a pair of Northern Flickers calling, challenging, and displaying at each other by fanning out their tail feathers and trying to simply look bigger than their rival.

NOFL2

Northern Flickers fighting over territory

On our way back out, we also found a second Richardson’s Ground Squirrel, this one a bit bigger and a bit more vibrant, also gathering food and preparing his own part of the sanctuary for his future mate and offspring!

Be very very quiet...

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel trying to hide. Completely unsuccessfully, I might add.

Here’s hoping your birding week is as successful as ours was! See you next week!

Spring Birding in Carburn Park – What a difference a month makes!

Posted by Dan Arndt

It seems like it was only yesterday that the Friends of Fish Creek Birding Course visited Carburn Park. While it has been a little over a month, the differences are astounding. The ice on the river has almost completely cleared up, and all three ponds are completely ice-free and full of waterfowl and gulls of all kinds.

After a couple of weekends away, it was nice to get back into the city and back to a place that is always full of surprises, and Carburn Park was just what the doctor ordered.

With a few fresh faces, and plenty of old familiar ones from the Winter Course, we started out bright and early at 7:30AM and got off to a great start.

We decided our best course of action would be to head south to the bridge, then follow a trail as far south as we could before turning back north and following the river with the sun at our backs, both for the best photos, but also for the best light to view the birds at.

Carburn Park - April 22, 2012

One major difference that stands out to my mind between winter and spring birding, at least before the leaves come out and change the game entirely, is that the birds that overwinter here in Calgary are fairly large-bodied overall. Sure, we get Common Redpolls, various finch species, and even a few odd sparrows here and there, but for the most part the overwintering birds are roughly robin-sized or larger. Geese, ducks, a few killdeer here and there, as well as the hawks, owls, and woodpeckers make up the bulk of the birding biomass in the winter. Spring, on the other hand, is when the smaller birds make Calgary home. Song Sparrows, Lincoln’s Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, along with Warblers, Vireos, and Pipits of all kinds make getting just the right light and just the right angles vitally important for a positive visual identification, since these birds are relatively tiny, generally between 10 and 20cm from tip of the bill to the tip of the tail.

The first couple sightings of the day were well known to us already, with a Red-breasted Nuthatch working away at a nest hole, and a Northern Flicker calling out to proclaim his territory.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

After spending some time on the bridge, Bob Lefebvre and I discussed the best route to take, to which I suggested the south leg of the walk, and then returning with the sun at our backs. I even suggested we might get lucky and find a Savannah Sparrow in the grassy area just east of the river, or maybe a Ring-necked Pheasant. It was a mere moments later that this beautiful little Savannah Sparrow popped out into the open to give me the my first sightings of the year for this species.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Along the trail to the south we heard a number of Song Sparrows and possible Lincoln’s Sparrows calling from an island in the center of the Bow River, but over the din of the Canada Geese, Franklin’s Gulls, and American Robins, it was hard to make out any that we could completely confirm. We did manage to get some good views of some Bufflehead on the Bow River, and this Red-tailed Hawk that decided to keep itself a healthy distance away from the group.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Heading back north along the river seemed a lot quieter than the last few times, but as the river opens up and the ice melts off, the concentration of birds on the river is much more dispersed. Add to that the increased number of people fishing both in, and on, the river tends to flush any large groups of birds, even at 7:30 in the morning.

We cut over to the get a couple of looks at the ponds before cutting back to the river when we noticed a few pair of Redheads on the furthest south pond, along with an industrious beaver taking a break on the north shore.

Redheads

Redheads

Heading back over to the river, we heard our first clear Lincoln’s Sparrow song of the day, and shortly after that, our first Tree Swallows flitting about overhead. A few Franklin’s Gulls decided it was a good morning for a bath, and allowed great views of their bright red bills and white eye-ring that are great markers for the species’ breeding plumage.

Franklin's Gulls having a bath

Franklin's Gulls having a bath

A little further north gave us a couple of great views of a Song Sparrow, singing high up in a tree, and hopping from branch to branch before flying off once we’d all gotten near.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

A search of the dense woods by the river for the Northern Saw-whet Owl came up empty, but not before this pair of patient and camera-savvy Common Mergansers hammed it up and posed nicely for us.

Common Merganser

Common Merganser

Another nice surprise was this pair of Canada Geese perched in Calgary’s oldest Water Birch. This legacy tree is massive, and at over 100 years old, is home to a number of nest holes for Mergansers, Flickers, and likely many more in the higher boughs that aren’t easily seen from the ground.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

We continued heading north to the last pond, but not before stopping to check across the river for a Bald Eagle pair that has regularly nested, and were given a few glimpses of the female sitting on the nest, poking her head up, but at such a distance that my lens didn’t show much more than a spot in the distance. I tried to make up for it with a nice close-up shot of this American Robin with a mouth full of… sludge? I guess what they say about one person’s trash being another’s treasure is true even for birds! I’d imagine he’s taking this back for nesting material.

Sludge! Delicious sludge!

American Robin

At the third pond we had a couple of good views of a Common Loon, had a low flyover of a Northern Goshawk, and saw what must have been a flock of 150 or more Franklin’s and Ring-billed Gulls both on the lake and above it, chasing down a flurry of freshly hatched insects. It was quite the feeding frenzy!